Yoko Ono

a yoko ono biography


Highs and lows

Yoko Ono about this era in 1996 to Michael Bracewell (The Guardian): "When John and I got together, and it seemed as though if we coughed they were going to write about it, I thought that it was sad that space in the newspaper should be used for something like that when we should be commenting on what's happening in the world. So I thought it was a great idea to do something." When John and Yoko spent their honeymoon staging a week-long Bed-In for Peace in Amsterdam in 1969 (with a reprise in Montreal two months later), he told reporters that his marriage was bound to make headlines anyway, so why not turn the occasion into what he called "an advertisement for peace"? John had a point: If nothing else, the bed-ins got people talking about peace and the couple.

Yoko continues about her life as an artist: "I was brought up to think Van Gogh was great; all the artists I admire, like Kafka, were fringe artists in their lifetime. I always thought that if you're a true artist you're only going to be appreciated after you go. They were all persecuted in one way or another. So my challenge is a bit strange. That was another thing in the early 1960s: I'd be doing a gallery show of my paintings and they'd say, `Oh, she's a composer - they're the dabblings of a composer', and then if I did a music concert they'd say, `Oh, she's just an artist'. So that's another challenge. I just have to be myself, and being myself is creating in different media without censoring myself. I'm a Jack of all trades... Which is not a good label, and I know it's not supposed to be effective professionally, but that's okay."

Yoko Ono suddenly found herself both demonised because of the Beatles break-up and hated at a time when she and her husband were campaigning against all forms of violence. Yoko in 1996 to Michael Bracewell (The Guardian): "What happened to me, being called Dragon Lady and being attacked by - I was going to say the whole of society - by a very large group of people, mainly Beatles fans... I was wondering about that all this time and thinking, `What is this?' and, `Why do I have to get this?', but now when I look back on it I think it was a learning process for all of us, and the fans are wiser for it. It must have been very hurtful that they saw their hero standing next to this person who's not only a woman but also an Oriental. And it must have been very hard for them to swallow, even as a picture, you know. But together we matured and we learned a lesson, because now when the fans see a mixed couple their perception of it might be an inch different. Also, to see a man's responsibility towards a family and towards rearing a child, because we did this exchange of roles, and seeing that a woman might want to say something..."

Yoko continued about the subject to Michael Bracewell (The Guardian, 1996): "I think that the power of journalism is incredible, and that in those days I was an easy target and a scapegoat; they just wrote about me in a very unflattering way. They did it to John too, and to many people, but I think that the press carved the image. I'm sure all the DJs were saying, `Oh dear, that woman again', but you get used to that and people get to think, `She's just a punch bag'. I was the safest bet. And also it's very interesting to make a woman into a kind of evil person who has strong evil powers, or something. It's a dichotomy in a way in their minds - a strength even. It's a very interesting twist, and that's what they loved about it."

In 1971 Yoko Ono had a retrospective exhibition, This Is Not Here, in the Everson Museum, New York. In mid-December 1971 Ono staged an imaginary art exhibit in New York's MoMa: spectators turned up at the gallery to discover that they were the work of art, as captured on film by the Lennon's assistants. Museum officials had to display large notices explaining the nature of the exhibition. "This is not here", she said helpfully. Ono and Lennon also participated in many Fluxus group exhibitions together. In the 1970s they were busy with their collaborative artistic and musical works, and also with their own solo projects. They were very active politically, which was also visible in many of their artistic works, for instance on their album Sometime In New York City in 1972.

arrow Yoko Ono about her art between 1960 and 1971

The Lost Weekend

Ono and Lennon experienced a wealth of problems during their early years together. Lennon in particular had been lambasted by the British public for leaving his first wife Cynthia and their son Julian. In 1971 Tony Cox, who had become a Christian fundamentalist after his divorce from Ono, kidnapped their daughter Kyoko and vanished. Yoko Ono and John Lennon spent years trying to find Kyoko. Ono and her daughter were finally reunited in 1998.

Ono and Lennon eventually moved to New York, where Lennon immediately became embroiled in a legal battle to remain in the USA that lasted for five years, during which time they separated and then reconciliated. This period of separation was later called The Lost Weekend.

The US government was trying to kick them out because of their political stand, and their personal relationship was now full of tension, together creating a prelude for The Lost Weekend. "Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions", writes Yoko in the John Lennon Anthology book in 1998. "I told John that I thought a trial separation would be a good idea. "We're both still young and attractive, it's crazy to stay together just because we're married. I would hate that. That's not what we're about, was it? We should see what happen." I tried to make light of it. "What about L.A.?…" "Okay, but I don't want to lose you", John said. "We'd probably lose each other if we stayed", I said. In the autumn 1973 John Lennon and Yoko Ono split up. "Yoko and I had a breakdown. We had been together seven years, and it wasn't like a normal marriage where the man goes off to work all day, or even the accepted showbiz marriage where one of the partners gets involved in something that splits them up for months through work. We were together for just about 24 hours a day! So it was bound to happen that we'd snap", John told Ray Coleman during the separation. John later said that "she kicked me out, pure and simple. I was behaving stupidly and it was grow-up time, and I'm glad she made me do it." The Lost Weekend lasted for 15 months, after which they got back together again.

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Yoko Ono and John Lennon

Yoko Ono and John Lennon
© Kent Features 1971

© Sari Gurney
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